Patrick Melia, Chief Executive at Sunderland City Council, is leading the city’s ambitious programme of initiatives as a smart city in a global arena of digitally connected countries.
Here, Patrick explains the city’s plans to tackle challenges and to inspire both personal and business growth through improved digital connectivity, leaving no one and nowhere behind.
Understanding the challenges that face our communities is critical in our journey to build a smart city of the future, equipped to instil confidence and support individuals and businesses alike to thrive with fast, efficient connections and support networks at their fingertips.
2019 saw the launch of our City Plan, which provides the insight and blueprint to effect change over the next ten years and beyond. It is built around three interdependent themes: dynamic, healthy and vibrant. These three areas position Sunderland as an excellent place to live, learn and earn with support mechanisms underpinning access to education, employment and economic prosperity for Sunderland’s residents and businesses.
At the core of all activities in the City Plan is digital connectivity. As an existing digital leader in the UK, Sunderland is known as a forward-thinking place in which businesses and educators collaborate to continue to lead in the field of digital innovation.
My vision is of a digitally connected city in which no one is left behind. Listening to the needs of our communities and ensuring individuals and businesses remain connected and feel confident is critical.
Our ambitious team of innovators, made up of digital experts from within the council and our partners, worked tirelessly on a fast-paced programme of activities to place Sunderland on the global map as one of the first cities in the UK to deploy 5G speeds over WiFi. Successfully launching free ultrafast connectivity of 1Gbps in parts of the city centre in December 2019.
Greater internet speeds and much more capacity will enable schools to transform teaching and learning for children. The benefits to adults include improved access to universal credits online, access to digital skills training and equipment in dedicated community rooms with our partners Gentoo, plus, importantly, a significant boost to confidence and knowledge levels across the city with access to the best WiFi download speeds in the country.
We will continue to leverage our digital capabilities to instil confidence to enrich the lives of individuals who choose to live, learn and earn in our Smart City as well as augmenting our offer as a revolutionary destination for inward investment and business growth.
We have numerous test beds and initiatives already in place plus many more planned which enable individuals, groups and businesses to instantly access information, data and support. With a National Assistive Technology testbed and the University of Sunderland’s innovative Living Lab, we are enabling the next generation of highly trained healthcare providers to utilise learning methods powered by digital innovation.
Alongside our smart city programme and our own investment in next generation wired and wireless connectivity, these examples illustrate our drive to ensure Sunderland’s standing as a healthy, vibrant and dynamic city is supported and empowered by our ongoing investment through innovative partnerships.
Our city vision will equip Sunderland with the digital means to transform the capabilities of local businesses and the lives of local people. The difference this will make to individuals across the city, as well as companies doing business here, is immeasurable. Everything we do now with smart devices will be better and faster, plus exciting innovations such as AR (augmented reality) and mobile virtual reality can be actualised.
With heightened access to speedy, reliable networks to maximise connectivity and global business opportunities; Sunderland-based organisations will be further equipped to compete on a worldwide scale. Connecting people to places via a decade of social and digital transformation will accelerate city-wide improvements for generations to come.